The Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand (FIANZ) last week released a comprehensive report on its response and activities in the first ten days of the Christchurch Mosque shooting.
The attack on two mosques in Christchurch, Al Noor and Linwood Mosques on Friday, March 15, took the lives of 50 people and injuring another 47, some of them still in critical condition.
This incident of terror resulted in an unprecedented amount of tasks piled up for the government authorities such police, the emergency services, hospitals and FIANZ, the apex body of the Muslim community in New Zealand.
FIANZ, as tasked to be the unified voice of the Muslim community in the time of crisis as a number of post-event responsibilities had to be dealt with that complied with the Islamic rules and books.
While police and hospitals had a mammoth task of getting 50 bodies ready to be handed to the families so their last rites could be done, FIANZ had to liaise with different government bodies, the local, national and international press, families of the victims, community organisations, mosques across the nation.
The report, a 20-page document comprehensively touched on every aspect of the response that was necessary or taken by the FIANZ team and executive members during the first ten days of the incident when emotions were running high across the country and families desperately waited to conduct the burial ceremonies of their loved ones.
“The purpose of the document is to keep all FIANZ officials and Muslims in NZ aware of the role of FIANZ in the critical first few days,” the report read.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern with FIANZ committee
Following the incident, the mandated National Response was led by the NZ Police who took responsibility for coordinating efforts both on the ground in Christchurch and nation-wide. FIANZ was requested by the NZ Police to be part of the National Response.
FIANZ Christchurch Response Team was formed led by FIANZ president Dr Mustafa Farouk, Head of Ulema Board Sheikh Mohammed Amir, PR Liaison Dr Anwar Ghani, Ms Rehanna Ali, Leila Adam, Ismail Waja and FIANZ office executives.
FIANZ’s scope of work in response to the crisis was first to assist NZ Police in liaising with local communities and providing national guidance in relation to the safety and well-being of the NZ Muslim community as a whole, provide assistance in bringing together the various Muslim organisations and groups representing the local Christchurch Muslim Community.
Another important task was to assess the national resources that would be required to provide immediate support to the local community with particular attention to the immediate victims, the injured and their families.
The work further extended to provide a coherent response to the unprecedented funerary requirements including the processing, washing, shrouding and burial services. Along with this included providing religious counselling as a unified voice to local, national and international media while also enabling local voices and provide information and assistance to the broader (non-Muslim) community.
FIANZ conducted at least 15 police briefings in ten days, with two-three briefings every day in order to coordinate a raft of various responses and activities taking place. A community centre was established at the Hagley College Campus and later at the Horticultural Hall to act as a base for the local community.
FIANZ conducted liaison meetings with 13 government and community organisations (local and national) including the Prime Minister, Minister responsible for the Office of Ethnic Affairs, Red Cross, Civil Defence, Department of Internal Affairs, ACC, City Council, Funeral Services, Victim Support etc.
Former Prime Minister Helen Clarke with FIANZ committee
The report also states that daily briefings were held directly with the affected families and the Police and the Family Liaison Unit and Victim Support. Each family was allocated a Victim Support Liaison and a Police Family Liaison. The briefings were primarily concerned with the process of the retrieval of the bodies of the departed and to this extent at one stage also involved the Coroner’s Office.
The report said that the need to receive the bodies of the departed in order to meet the ritual requirements of Islamic burial was presented to all levels of Government, including the office of the PM and all other concerned agencies.
“This [return on bodies] became one of the most contentious and time-consuming issues in the days immediately following the attack. Grieving families longing for the return of the bodies of their loved ones were encountering delays in this process, and much negotiation was required between all parties concerned – that is the families, the community, the Police and the Coronial Office.
“The balance between religious requirements and legal requirements was an extremely
sensitive issue and the role of the scholars in this instance was pivotal,” the report read.
Ghusl or body washing arrangements and burial:
Special Ghusl provisions were made, and teams of men and women technicians were allocated to streamline the process and get the bodies washed and shrouded as quickly as possible. Teams of ghusl providers were established, briefed and managed in order to cope with the scale involved.
The team also worked with the local organisations for the timing, logistics and coordination of the burials that were held at Memorial Park Cemetry in East Linwood.
Apart from dealing with the families and government bodies, FIANZ met a number of visiting leaders and scholars including representatives from overseas such as Jordan, Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, USA, Australia, Malaysia, Bangladesh and others.
Liaising with Interfaith organisations:
FIANZ liaised with several local and national faith organisations and inter-faith organisations who responded to the incident with support offers of assistance, vigils and visits.
Reopening of the two-mosques
FIANZ coordinated with the police and local agencies to ensure the fastest possible re-opening of the two mosques where the attacks happened and ensured that all possible repair work had been undertaken so as to the minimise the trauma of re-entry to the survivors.
FIANZ worked with Imams, Ngai Tahu and other faith leaders to undertake a series of prayers at both Mosques and as a precursor to the eventual official reopening which took place on Saturday, March 23.
Masjid Al-Noor opening on Saturday, March 23
The Friday memorial prayers at Hagley Park on March 22, as expected had a gathering over thousands of people who gathered together to hear from the Prime Minister and Local and National Leaders before listening to the live khutbah compiled by a collection ofscholars and delivered by the Imam of Masjid Al-Noor, Sheikh Gamal.
FIANZ opened a special account for the donation for the victims and their families. As of March 26, approximately $307,000 had been deposited of which $54,000 was paid to the Muslim Association Canterbury upon their formal written request for assistance to help the affected families.
Work on behalf of FIANZ in Wellington and Auckland
In response to the urgent matter at hand, the FIANZ staff in the national office in Wellington had to continue their daily schedule of work and in-addition replied to over 600 emails and 1100 phone calls from with New Zealand and overseas responding to the queries of the families and authorities.
Auckland has the highest numbers of Muslims in the country, and it was important for FIANZ to take input from the community there. The New Zealand Muslim Association (NZMA) organised several goals and deliverables on behalf of FIANZ.
Students at Auckland's Memorial Service held at Eden Park
Some of the most immediate actions following the attack, NZMA immediately contacted NZ Police to arrange security in all mosques in Auckland.
NZMA called a public meeting on Friday evening, March 15 at Avondale Police Station to get a briefing from NZ Police and Auckland Mayor.
An Auckland Mosque Whatsapp group was established to communicate messages to all mosques and provide updates and instructions from NZ Police.
NZMA organised teams of volunteers in support of the Christchurch victims and despatched resources needed in Christchurch from Auckland. This included Janazah services, medical support, grief management, events management, media management, and funds/donation management etc.